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Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Friday, July 8, 2016

The American Tragedy of the American Southwest

Mesas and Plateaus in shades of red, orange, yellow, ochre, beige, purple, as far as the eye can see rising out of plains of sand and rubble with canyons cutting into them, their floors sometimes carpeted with thick short bladed fields of varying shades of green. A vast, open land under a vast open sky of blue, sometimes cloudless, sometimes filled with puffy clouds of the purest white. Mountains, thickly forested with straight trunked evergreen trees, majestic in and of the themselves, tall and full. The mountains so high that they leave the observer breathless, disbelieving in their reality. Climbing them one feels miniscule and the heights become dizzying, the depths of the narrow valleys below frightening to those looking over the edge of the ridges that extend to the horizon. Ridges, sharp and jagged. Long stretches of sand, hot and dry with cacti and other strange plant forms adapted to life without much water. This is Apacheria today, just as it was over 100 years ago. Oh, there are towns and people now, in places where there were few if any settlements then. Cities even. But still there is land, open and unchanged, as it once was. What is missing are the people who once lived here, free and able to roam at will, hunting and worshipping their gods. We call them Indians and we even can name certain tribes, the Apaches, the Chiricahua, Cheyenne but there were different tribes or bands of these natives, they were not all the same group and they certainly did not all get along. Yet, they all lived on this land and managed to establish family and home. Even before the Civil War, there was an influx of non-Natives into this land. The Mexicans and Apaches along the man-made line, called the border, certainly had become enemies, with the Apache raiding ranches for cattle and horses and the Mexicans brutally overrunning Indian settlements, killing the men, capturing the women and children to be used as slaves. After the Civil War, however, in an ever Westward expansion the Government of the United States exerted much greater pressure on these tribes. The beauty of the surface of this open land was nothing in comparison to the minerals and metals that lay beneath it. The desire for more land for settlers as immigration from Europe began to overcrowd the East became obsessive. And, then too, the necessity of building the railroads that would tie this world of the white man together and make the builders unbelievably rich, precluded any desire to allow these savages, these uneducated indigenous peoples to retain their homes or their way of life. And so, here, in over 400 pages, Paul Andrew Hutton, tries to tell the stories of the two decade long war against the Apaches. It is difficult, there are so many characters who were involved--the politicians in Washington ---and then, as now, the unwieldy number of agencies and people trying to run the show. The Presidents who succeeded one after the other, none at all very capable in regards to this aspect of our history. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Department of the Interior, the Army, the Dutch Reformed Church and all of the soldiers, agents, suttlers, commanders of Indian scouts, Indian scouts, Indian police--on the one hand--all trying to communicate with one another or not, in a time when any form of communication across the country took weeks rather than days until the advent of the telegraph. On the other hand, there were the chiefs of the various tribes, the warriors, the medicine men, the women and even the young children who would grow to adulthood and take active parts in the events. The tragedy of the defeat and almost complete eradication of these people is heartbreaking. The lies, the broken promises, the outright greed of those who came to make the decisions regarding their disposition are shameful. Oh, there were horrors perpetrated by the Natives but there were also families who tried to assimilate and accept the arrival of a new order. All of them were treated in the same way by the Government. Repetition of the same mistakes made with the natives of the East. Relocation to areas totally different than their homeland--first to Florida--off the coasts of Pensacola or to a St Augustine Fortification. This is time followed by relocation to Oklahoma around Fort Sill. Eventually, those who survived these relocations and survived without contracting malaria or tuberculosis, were allowed to return to their homes in Arizona and New Mexico. By that time, their numbers were severely reduced, their old homes populated by those who had usurped them. The beauty of the land remains--to this Easterner it is so vast and beautiful it is almost overwhelming. Friends who have come East to visit have told me they can't stand the humidity and feel claustrophobic here. When they say that, I think of those transplanted Apache and grieve once more for their plight. And when I go back to Apacheria, I imagine their spirits standing beside me. They are gone but the world around me echoes with their breaths. It will take a bit of time to read this book--it cannot be gobbled up quickly. The story is too overwhelming and needs stopping to think about the events and digest them. Also, the cast of characters is so great, it takes time to organize them. The pictures help and I found myself looking at them frequently to imprint their faces onto the words. If your only knowledge of the American West and the people who populated it come from John Ford, John Wayne and Ward Bond, then you owe it to yourself to read this book. Again and again. And then go, if you haven't already, to see the beautiful country in which these events took place. No book or movie can ever truly present the reality of its vastness, variety and grandeur. I received a copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for a review

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